‘Out of the Vault’: SVAC shares its treasures | Vermont Arts
Hailed as “the painter laureate of Vermont” by Life magazine in 1939, Luigi Lucioni, born in Italy in 1900, painted Green Mountain landscapes from his introduction to the state in 1930 to his death in 1988. Lucioni’s vistas, barns and stands of trees — especially birches — express his reverence for the natural and rural world. His sensitive approach to light and detail shines in his landscapes and his still-lifes.
Reginald Marsh is especially known for his paintings of people of New York City in the 1920s to 1950s, including hobos on the Bowery and burlesque performers. His social realism comes together with a Baroque style that at times evokes a sense of classical friezes.
Folk artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, who was finally able to devote time to painting at age 78, leapt into the American Art scene in 1940 in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Scenes by Grandma Moses of happy rural life — children sledding, horse-drawn sleighs — evoke less complicated times.
Lucioni, Marsh and Moses are among the 20-plus artists with strong southern Vermont ties whose artwork is featured in “Out of the Vault” at the Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum of the Southern Vermont Arts Center.The exhibition, drawn from SVAC’s permanent collection, runs to Feb. 21. Among SVAC’s Yester House exhibitions, “The Women of SVAC” gives viewers opportunity to see more work of several “Vault” artists.
“People are always interested in seeing our permanent collection and we don’t often have an occasion to show a lot of it at once,” said Anne Corso, SVAC executive director. “Our collection is not encyclopedic as you would see in a large art museum. Its focus is on artists of the region, more specifically artists who were central to the Southern Vermont artists and to our founding, but not exclusively,”
“Out of the Vault” fills the Wilson. It’s all Lucioni in the eponymous Lucioni Gallery with paintings, watercolors and etchings span from 1918 portrait etchings to late 1980s paintings.
Lucioni, whose family immigrated to New York in 1911, showed his artistic talent early. He studied at Cooper Union from age 15, then on to National Academy of Art, and soon a life-changing Tiffany Foundation scholarship.
Lucioni’s first contact with Vermont was a 1917 visit to relatives in Barre. In the 1930s, art commissions by the Webb family in Shelburne brought him to paint Vermont. He bought a home in Manchester in 1939 and split his time between the Green Mountains and New York City the rest of his life.
“Out of the Vault” offers a great introduction to Lucioni for new viewers and an opportunity to explore the depth of his work for fans.
Birches were among Lucioni’s longtime favorite subjects. In oil, watercolor and etchings, he turned to stands of white birches, light reflecting from their bark —sometimes in a dense copse, other times with field, farm or golf course, visible behind their trunks.
Several superb barn paintings are in the show. His fascination with barns as “Vermont castles” is addressed in an essay by Robert L. McGrath, of Dartmouth, in SVAC’s Lucioni book published in 2000. Public copies are in the gallery.
Lucioni’s fruit and vegetable still-lifes are among the gems of the show — each pear, apple, artichoke sits on softly folded velvet, like a jewel, inviting examination of its natural perfection.
Among the artists in the Hunter Gallery, many were among the Southern Vermont Artists group who founded SVAC, purchasing the Webster estate in 1950, giving their organization a permanent home for showing art and giving the community a dynamic center for visual and performing arts.
Vermont landscapes by Jay Hall Connaway (1893-1970) range from a style of imagined realism to more Impressionistic. Broad brush strokes of “Pawlet Road, Winter” (1954) evoke snowy isolation of winter farm life.
In Elsa Bley’s ‘The Horse Traders,” a trio of horses circles a manger heaped with hay as a fourth alertly looks on. The deep rich greens of fields and trees and slightly tilty little barn evoke an almost enchanted quality to the moment. More of Bleh’s paintings are in Yester House — including her sensitive and compelling portrait of a young Black girl, “Wishful Barbara.”
SVAC has breadth and depth in its permanent collection, well worth making time for a leisurely visit. With COVID-19 precautions in place including limits on numbers of visitors, SVAC’s spacious galleries offer an especially comfortable and very safe feeling experience.